Rice is often considered a fattening food. But it’s the time and amount of rice intake that cause obesity, say diet experts

It has been three days since Arasi ate rice. The size-zero craving of the 23-year-old college student has put her on a no-rice diet. “I have been taking only chapathis and fruit juices even for lunch. I am trying hard to get my curves right,” says Arasi. Her mother, Geeta, is not happy about it. “She looks anorexic of late and gets tired often,” says Geeta. “She always says a strict podhum for saadham.”

It has become a fad among young girls to live on rotis and bread and rice is increasingly being ruled out by people on a slimming mission. “But it is the staple diet of South Indians and our system will not accept anything else as food,” says S. Kavitha, dietician at Maverick Fitness Studio. Sudden stop in intake of rice many cause fatigue. Often people misunderstand rice as the reason for causing obesity. But, apart from just carbohydrates, rice contains ample proteins and vitamins, too.”

According to Kavitha, around one-fifth of our calorie intake comes from rice and completely avoiding it may strip the body of minerals and vital nutrients. “Instead, one may reduce the amount of intake or reschedule the time to come down on weight,” says Kavitha. “Avoiding rice can only be possible for a short time. But, eventually, the system will start going back to its original metabolism.”

Eat right and light

Dr. M. Saroja, general physician, says that what you eat at night has much to do with your weight. “Eat light and right at night,” she says. “Someone wanting to shed kilos may try avoiding rice at night. Since rice has complex calories, it may also be difficult for the body to break them down during sleep.” Idlis and dosas don’t have the same effect on body weight, she points out. “As a lot of dal goes into the batter, the nutrient ratios are different. Many also add millets like thinai, vendhayam and navadhaniyams in the batter, making it healthier.”

Diet experts also suggest that dinner can be made healthier and lighter with ragi or wheat. Addition of fermented items like curd is also recommended as fermentation increases the nutrient levels. “Chapathis or ragi upmas are ideal for dinner,” says Kavitha. “But the lunch should contain rice and all the five food groups (carbohydrates, vitamins, proteins, minerals and fat).” She vouches for the traditional South Indian meal as the most balanced diet. “If still someone wants to make their lunch light, the amount of rice should be substituted with lots of green vegetables and fresh fruits.”

Fight fat

One major issue for young and old these days is avoiding fatty foods. Ghee, butter and cheese are complete no-no’s for many. Surprisingly, proper intake of rice many go a long way in reducing fat. “Brown rice is the best way to flush out fat from the system,” says Kavitha. “As brown rice is rich in fibre content, it helps in minimizing the deposit of fats in tissues.”

Apart from the fibre that keeps the digestive system efficient, much of the energy used for cell growth and repair comes from rice. “Brown rice also contains B-group vitamins such as thiamine, niacin, zinc and phosphorus,” says Kavitha. She suggests that processed rice can be replaced with par-boiled rice as the latter is rich in Vitamin E, magnesium, potassium and manganese. “Rice is also a gluten-free grain and hardly causes allergic reactions, whereas high intake of wheat can still cause allergies.”

According to Dr. Saroja, it’s a misconception that chapathis in the place of rice can help reduce weight. She says that chapathis were prescribed initially only to bring down overeating of rice. To ensure a steady supply and burning of calories, she recommends that dieters peck at little portions every three hours rather than load up on heavy meals.

Says Dr. Saroja, “Rice reduction doesn’t necessarily result in weight reduction. Rice is not just a storehouse of starch and it’s a myth that avoiding rice can get you a size-zero figure.”